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March 10, 2005

Comments

Maureen

The comments about young women walking dogs needing instruction on how marriage is about babies were wonderfully sensitive and wise. Not.

Since people are getting married later, there are going to be more infertile couples. That's just a fact of life. And yes, it would be nice if more couples did have kids instead of treating their dogs like children. But frankly, that happens even with folks who've had tons of kids.

Finally, if he's talking about young single women roaming around with dogs instead of getting married, maybe that's a sign we aren't really supporting religious vocations.

Steve

Sorry Jimmy. I found Crocker's piece quite humorous, and even if some certain facts aren't accurate (i.e. NFP doesn't work, the divorce rate, etc...), I thought that the basic underpinnings of his article were on the mark. Sure, there are valid reasons to use NFP, but NFP is all too often used for any reason whatsoever. Children are often regarded as impediments to selfish, personal aspirations. Unfortunately, (in my experience,) many catholics use NFP as their moral crutch to prevent children in favor of these. I think Crocker was only rightly pointing out that children and large families are much more valuable than petty ambitions that have pervaded even our catholic culture.

Steve D. Galvanek

Yeesh! You know, I 'like' NFP and believe (to the extent one can 'believe') in many of it's benefits-at least as compared to using artificial contraception. But really, folks need to get a sense of humor. And if NFP (whether effective or lax) users are honest with ourselves, the attitude he's trying to get across is what we all should be striving for. I've always viewed NFP as a second best crutch for those of us who are too spiritually immature to totally abandon ourselves to God's will......yet. But certainly I hope one day to get to that total abandonment. NFP is a mercy for the weak (and for those who absolutely NEED it for medical reasons), not an object worthy of cultic worship. I'll stick with Crocker/Belloc on this...

"Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine there’s always laughter and good red wine,”

...NFP worshippers can say what they like, but when I finished reading the article, it was the first time since our second son was born that I thought....maybe??? His joyous and humorous look at the chaos of children and family life made me laugh and long for more of it. There's something serious to be said for his tongue in cheek slogan.

francis

I'm a big believer in NFP - my wife and I have used it for our 10 years of marriage, and we have 4 wonderful children. I also believe strongly in NFP's "corollary" benefits - such as increased communication and understanding of biological realities.

However, I thought Crocker's article was hilarious. I know it wasn't completely accurate, but we've got to get a sense of humor people! Just because NFP is a good thing doesn't mean it solves all the problems of the world - which seems to be the implication of some pro-NFP proponents. To hear some pro-NFP people, any couple that uses it will be perpetually happy, lose weight, and cure cancer.

Tim

As a NFP dad of 5 kids, I see the point that was being made in the article. I know my wife and I have discussed "Is there a legitimate reason why we are NOT having any more kids?" We can't come up with an answer other than we are both feeling a bit selfish right now.

We were even considering getting a dog....

kevin

It is very good to note that for a married couple to engage in the marital act 'only in infertile times' (to avoid children with NFP)--they need a 'serious reason'. This does not have to be an 'extremely serious reason' but needs to be a authentic serious reason (which according to Humanae Vitae could be physical, psychological, financial or external circumstances). In recent documents this is repeated: The Holy Father in 1995 (after the CCC) still uses the "serious reason" language in Evangelium Vitae (1995), "In its true meaning, responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord's call and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new
birth for the time being or indefinitely" (no. 97).

When we consider the use of the term 'Just reason' in the CCC we have to remember that the articles there only have the weight of their orginal documents and ought to be understood in the light of higher documents--hence the Encylicals mentioned (one which came out after the Catechism) still use the serious reason language. Also in the New Document on the Social Doctrine--(though not so high is recent) it also repeats that there is to be "serious reasons". Thus for a reason to be 'just' in this case it must be a 'serious reason'--but this is up to the couple before God and with informed conscience to judge (and there can be many and various circumstances!).

Kevin Miller

I heartily agree with Jimmy.

It simply isn't true that NFP is only for the spiritually immature. Spiritual maturity and abandonment to God don't mean that we no longer have to exercise the virtue of prudence - including in the matter of procreation. This is not the teaching of the popes, and it is not in keeping with right reason (informed by faith).

(Nor, therefore, is it true that, as Crocker suggests, NFP is better than contraception because it's less effective. Not only is it not necessarily less effective, but, in any case, that'd have nothing to do with its morality or lack thereof.)

Yes - it's true that some NFP-using couples probably need to appreciate more fully the value of kids. But the way to communicate that is NOT by suggesting that anyone who tries to avoid procreation for a time is ipso facto insufficiently appreciative of the value of kids.

Sean Gallagher

I think we should consider why some people don't think that Crocker's piece to be humorous.

Some are, through no fault of their own, struggling with infertility, a cross that those who do not have it should not underestimate.

Others who have been blessed with the conception of children but accept the full teaching of the Church on marriage and sexuality (i.e., including the licitness and moral acceptability of periodic continence for serious reasons) often feel they're in a small boat on a stormy ocean, with the prevailing culture both in society at large and often within the Church as well looking scornfully askance at their beliefs. Therefore when people within the boat start taking jabs at them, even if they intended to do it with humor, it's natural for them to react defensively.

Robert Simmons

As a father of six I found the article hilarious. With a bunch of kids running around the house you've got to lighten up, see what's really important, and put some of those scholarly tomes on the back burner! I prefer the term "supernatural family planning".

Humor and satire are fine. Lord knows we need smiles and a sense of perspective. But when a journal that pretends to provide serious commentary on the state of the church and the world demeans and ridicules, and uses patently false information in an article, they have stepped over the line.

My proposal: if they want humor and satire and to include articles that misstate the facts, why not just change the name. I'd suggest Catholic Lampoon.

Maria N.

I was once a strong defender of NFP (I passed out pamphlets and wrote letters favoring NFP), but lately I regret what I've done and I have wondered if it is really a good idea from a traditional Catholic viewpoint. I base my new feelings on the fact that in my dealings with Catholic couples in my parish pro-life group who favor NFP, they tend to look at NFP as a "cleaner" contraceptive that still limits the amount of children they have. While they oppose contraceptives (abortifacients), they fail to realize that they are still contracepting by avoiding having more children, hence, NFP becomes a branch of birth control, not birth "promote."

Also, what has contraceptives and NFP done for vocations? If you look at the amount of priests that we had, say, a hundred years ago, they usually came from a very large family. For example, Father Paul Marx, founder of Human Life Internaional, came from a family of well over ten siblings! Today, you're lucky to see a young "Catholic" couple with one child!

While I understand the emotions of people who favor NFP, I don't think they are looking at NFP from a traditional Catholic perspective but from one that's convenient. Also, in Europe, the Muslim population is passing the Catholic population because they do not contracept or practice "NFP." Our Catholic fertility rate in Europe and in other parts of the world are extremely low, far below the 2.1% or so needed to sustain a sturdy population. We may have a billion Catholics in the world, but most of the billion were born during the "baby boom" generation when Catholics and other denominations still believed in the large family.

Adrian

I don't know who Crocker is, but he's obviously not a serious columnist. All I know about him is at the bottom, he wrote some sort of comic novel.

That said, his comments make my life as an NFP teacher more difficult, especially when faced with unmotivated engaged couples. Proposing NFP as not successful is confusing and inaccurate.

Openness to life is very important, and that is stressed in my classes. There are so many social stigmas with children from fears of "over-population", lack of money, lack of time, or perhaps the fear of parenting itself that make children as burdens. With any kind of contraceptive, this is bottled up and rarely, if ever discussed. With a couple using NFP, the opportunity for discussion is much more often.

I'm not sure where his "bitterness" for NFP comes from, perhaps bad teaching couple, frustration with learning the rules or charting. But to dismiss the column as simple satire or humor not quite fair.

Steve D. Galvanek

>>That said, his comments make my life as an NFP teacher more difficult, especially when faced with unmotivated engaged couples. Proposing NFP as not successful is confusing and inaccurate.

Come now, this is a bit over the top. The couples you are speaking of are not reading Crises magazine and are not likely to ever even see his piece. For the folks interested enough in their faith to read a Catholic publication, I think Crises is just assuming that we are adults who know our faith and can read something like this for what it was intended to be, humor.

And for the person who answered that I was suggesting everyone using NFP is spiritually immature..of course you I was saying no such thin. If you read my comments, you'll see that I was speaking of myself and my own motivations for using NFP. Though, I strongly suspect that many user of NFP, if they are honest with themselves, would admit they are in the same boat.

Paulk

That article sounded right on target to me. Too often, NFP is used simply as "Catholic birth control." Also, from talking with Catholics who do have large families, they'll get crud thrown at them by NFP users if they don't think its the best thing since sliced bread.

Plus, we need to outbreed the Mormons, and NFP is in the way of that :P

Greg Popcak

Crocker's piece is "funny" the way the DaVinci Code is "entertaining."

You could say Dan Brown's book was "a fast read" and be speaking the truth, but there is so much crap in it in that it spoils what merits the book might otherwise have. The same can be said of Crocker's idiotic, uninformed take on NFP. I have a hard time understanding why Crisis would have published it.

Abigail

The article was incoherent. It's hard to listen to someone's advice to have a ton of kids when he describes the life with such bitterness.

Also, why does he assume that everyone using NFP is using it for frivolous reasons? "Just give up and fill up your house with babies" isn't good advice for a woman with a horrible medical condition, or who's taking drugs that would harm the baby. Or for a father who doesn't think he can be a good father to the kids he already has if he has more. It also doesn't do much to help people whose _spouses_ are unwilling to have more children, even though they'd do it gladly.

Telling parents in such situations that NFP doesn't work anyway is scandal, by the strict definition--it can lead people into sin. I don't know what Crisis was thinking. Humor, fine--but bitterness has no place in the Christian soul, right?

Sophia Institute Press has a book out about raising a big family (_Please Don't Drink the Holy Water_)that is laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn't paper over the crosses, but is joyful underneath. That's the sort of thing we need.

Tom McDonald

"There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition (to be a responsible parent) itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty."
Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p. 243.
This hardly sounds like NFP is a "mercy for the weak," Steven.

Jennifer

I'm a Catholic woman married to a wonderful man who is not Catholic, and who jokingly told the priest who married us that he is a "generic" Christian. We have two children, and are currently using NFP to prevent more. I desperatly want more children. My husband has serious concerns that I can not overcome. But I consider even the fact that he's agreed to "let" me use NFP a huge success and blessing, and him not going in for a vasectomy an even larger blessing.

I don't normally tell people this because I tend to be private person, and I don't want to risk putting my husband in a bad light. However, in reading a few of the comments above, and in interacting with large families (Catholic or other) I find that there is an attitude of moral superiority - the "I'm better because I have more children" or "you obviously aren't open to life because you don't have enough children" attitude. I am very aware of the blessing of children. I'm not going against the lead of my spouse, effectively lying to him, to have more children. I do pray for his change of heart.

Please be aware that this attitude can hurt and that you do not know all the reasons why a family has few children. Please practice charity. Thank you.

Steve

There is a middle ground. There's enough extremism on both sides to go around. I often hear it said from some fellow catholics that "NFP is the same as birth control." It isn't. I have also heard from many (including NFP teachers in our diocese) that "every catholic couple should use NFP." No, they shouldn't. If NFP was the same as birth control, then, simply, the church would never officially promote or suggest it's use for any reason. If it were acceptable for everyone to use NFP, then the church wouldn't qualify it's teaching with the oft quoted (and sometimes inconvenient) "serious reasons" expression. Both sides of this issue need to recognise that there are valid reasons for using NFP *and* that NFP is often abused.

That being said (and speaking as a father of nine, so far) I do find myself more in agreement with the 'NFP is being abused by catholics' crowd. While the practice of NFP is very different than artificial contraception, the contraceptive mentality is rampant among catholics who use NFP (IMO). "Serious reasons" is often read as "any reason", or often "no reason at all."

Jared L. Olar

Wow. For a guy who claims that marriage and having a large family is a blessing, this Crocker fellow sure does seem to hate being married and to hate having kids. I didn't detect much respect or love for his wife or kids in his "humor piece," if that's what it was.

It makes me glad I let my subscription to Crisis expire. Really, Crisis is already suffering after the Deal Hudson scandal -- with this Crocker essay, it seems like their staff has lost the will to go on, but have conceived a death wish for their mag . . .

And just for everyone's information, my wife and I have used NFP both to temporarily delay having a child and to facilitate conception. In our experience, it has worked exactly as advertised. But then, contrary to what a lot of self-righteous folks say about Catholics who use NFP, we do not regard it or treat it as contraception.

Jon

Before you all write in to Crisis with damnations or exultations, you might want to read the letters column where Crocker responds to his fans and critics.

RJ

>>Plus, we need to outbreed the Mormons, and NFP is in the way of that

Unless you are a couple that has trouble having children, and use NFP for trying to conceive. NFP is not all about postponing pregnancy.

Suzanne

I am just glad I didn't read that article three or four years ago when I was a marginal Catholic. Of course, I certainly wouldn't have been subscribing to crisis magazine as I am now, but the article can show up in other places (like the blogoshere) and can really shape opinion.

I don't use NFP. Before I knew my faith I stopped using artificial contraception (back in '94) just because it gave me headaches, NOT because of Church teaching.

That being said, a few years ago I had a miscarriage and my doctor told me to use some sort of contraception for three months after the miscarriage--that wasn't an option for me, so I started looking up NFP resources (it never occurred to me to abstain for three months-hey I was a marginal Catholic).

What did I find? I found a wealth of information that changed our lives, not only concerning Church teaching and NFP, but my husband and I found Catholic Answers, EWTN, Jimmy Akin, so MANY wonderful things about the Church we never knew existed. Even though I don't regulary use NFP (we have four children and hope to have more) it's a good thing to have sometimes.

Thank the Lord that I didn't run across Crock's article first when I was searching.

Steve D. Galvanek

>>"There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition (to be a responsible parent) itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty."
Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p. 243.
>>This hardly sounds like NFP is a "mercy for the weak," Steven.

It most certainly is mercy. It is a mercy that those who find themselves in the positon described in L&R have recourse to an effective method of making it happen in a culture which espouses popping abortificient pills as an alternative. It is a mercy that our generation is the first to have recourse to an effective method when they find themselves in the position described above when countless generations before us had no such recourse. It is a mercy that I am very glad for, and make use of.

But let's not pretend that this is how God or his creation intended it. Our 'natural' insticts (and how it was cheifly done by all prior generations) was for husband and wife to make love when they felt like doing so, and let the chips fall where they may. They simply had no other choice. Enshrining NFP as somehow part of Catholic doctrine is misguided. The teaching is that contraception is immoral, not the we must revere NFP.

Use of NFP is a mercy for those who prayerfully believe that they need (whether by choice or medical necessity) to postpone pregnancy (including myself). But the REAL 'natural' thing to do for most (excepting for medical necessity) would not be charting, checking, and analyzing, but rather letting go and and trusting God that he'll give us the grace to handle whatever he sends our way.

Natalie

No one said that NFP can't be used for extreme medical reasons, but when it is used in the same manner that contraceptives are used, then it is more than about "natural family planning" and truly falls into the rigid birth control mentality (hence, controlling the birth of children). When I practiced NFP with my husband (we have one beautiful child), we felt it was a sneaky alternative to artificial contraceptives (which I now know are immoral) but we felt that it was the same mentality, only worded differently yet the results were still the same (birth control)! We felt as long as Church officials allowed it, that we could go along with NFP until someone in authority was smart enough to know what was really going on with us couples who practiced NFP. While the Church may say NFP is natural and moral, we couples always knew deep down what NFP really meant in our lives, simply, birth control. Although we listened to our NFP teachers, we usually never took what they said seriously whenever they tried claiming that NFP was not the same as birth control. One couple we joked with would say something like "the next thing the NFP teacher will tell us is that the world is flat."

No one is saying that one should have an attitude of "I have more children than you so I'm better" or "since you don't have children then there is something wrong." The issue has to do with NFP itself and with Natural Moral Law which NFP clearly violates and never mentions. No matter how we make NFP look pretty (we can wrap it up in pretty wrapping paper and sell it all we want), it still takes on the same inner appearance that artificial contraception has within the body...that of birth control, even though it is not an artificial method (but the results are still the same). Yes. you guessed it. I wish I had a couple more children. Thank you artificial and NFP birth control for encouraging me to not have more children when I was younger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"I am God Almighty, Be fruitful and Multiply" (Genesis)

Devin Rose

I am a computer programmer, and I wrote a small program that had a user interface to configure the options on it. The design of the options interface seemed completely logical to me, however, when I gave it to my mom, she was immediately confused about many of the options. "But it's so obvious!" I thought to myself. "How can she not understand it?"

Well, as it turns out, my mom is an average computer user, whereas I am a professional computer programmer, so she was right about the interface and I was wrong. It's that simple.

Let me bring my point to this article. I read it, realized that some parts of it were intended to be humorous, but did not get the impression he was joking about his criticism of NFP nor of the people who practice it. It came across to me as disrespectful at best. Would St. Joseph speak in such a way of his wife and family? So if I, a faithful, intelligent Catholic, read this the "wrong" way and couldn't see the "obvious" humor in it, then many others would not as well. Much like the user interface I made that my mom couldn't make heads or tails out of, even though it was "obvious" to me how to use it, Crocker's "obvious" humor is not obvious at all, and instead can easily be harmful to people.

The customer/user is always right! Receive their feedback with humility and make improvements.

Steve D. Galvanek

>>>No matter how we make NFP look pretty ... it still takes on the same inner appearance that artificial contraception has within the body...that of birth control, even though it is not an artificial method (but the results are still the same).

Natalie,
You overstate the case here, and what you are saying is manifestly incorrect. First, while someone MAY fall into contraceptive mentality, that doesn't mean that NFP practicioners necessarily do. And the inner appearance within the body and the results are very different. Using artificial contraception and engaging in intercourse with the intent of thwarting conception cannot be compare in any way physically with abstaining and not engaging in the act. The RESULT of one is to block an act from producing the natural consequences, the RESULT in the other is to not engage in the act altogether.
Would you likewise say that the person trying to lose weight who foregoes the piece of cake they'd really like to have is doing the same exact thing as the person who gorges themself on cake and then purges the contents of their stomach?
As for your NFP instruction experience, please speak for yourself here. As someone who came from the secular culture and had used contraception for many years, I never looked at NFP as a 'cheat'. It was truly a blessing that help get me out of the previous mindset.

kevin

Natalie,

I would encourage you to read up on NFP from a Theological point of view...and also read up on 'Natural Law'--(Which authentic NFP does not violate but rather respects). Experience is not always the best teacher.

Adrian

The discussion here appears to be a disagreement on what constitutes "serious' or "just" reasons for delaying a pregnancy. What some consider to be valid reasons, I may not. What I consider to be valid reasons others may not. Who am I to judge? It's between a couple and God.

I may disagree and suggest some additional prayers/reflection for someone not having children because they want to buy a boat in the middle of a dry state.

I think many people (here at least) agree that NFP can be abused (as with anything else) with the same king of contraceptive attitude, but in the end prudence must be allowed and NFP is the only moral way.

If I left everything up to God, how does he know I love him? Without making difficult choices, how can I demonstrate my love for the Lord? I'm not going to drive through red traffic lights because I trust the Lord. I'm going to show my love for my neighbors by obeying the traffic laws and making a safer environment.

Am I off-base here?

Mike

"I am not pleased with the statement in the text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have. Never has this been heard of in the Church. My father was a laborer, and the fear of having many children never entered my parents' minds, because they trusted in Providence. [I am amazed] that yesterday in the Council it should have been said that there was doubt whether a correct stand had been taken hitherto on the principles governing marriage. Does this not mean that the inerrancy of the Church will be called into question? Or was not the Holy Spirit with His Church in past centuries to illuminate minds on this point of doctrine?" (The Rhine Flows into the Tiber)

The preceding statements were made during the Second Vatican Council by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Cardinal Ratzinger's predecessor as head of the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and the eleventh in a family of twelve children. Several years prior, Pope Pius XII expressed similar sentiments that large families were representative of: "the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage" (Pope Pius XII, "Address to the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy" (January 20, 1958).

How did that which was a few short decades ago considered by someone who knew Catholic Faith as well as anyone, to be "never ... heard of in the Church" become so ubiquitous and, according to some, even obligatory? When did childbirth, a miraculous treasure naturally flowing from marriage, become the result of an optional act of generosity performed by those practicing "responsible parenthood"?

Several decades later, the Church in America has come to this: At a recent USCCB Forum on NFP, a presenting married couple extolling the benefits of periodic abstinence openly recounted how:

"At the beginning of our married life, we used NFP to avoid pregnancy, as the time was not right for it" (J. & J. Campbell, "Connections" USCCB NFP Forum, Vol. 13, Nos. 3 & 4 (Summer/Fall 2002)

Excepts by a Peter W. Miller


Mike

Steve et al,

You are avoiding the main outcome of Natural Family Planning, that it avoids having children similar to artificial birth control. Natalie is more on target than you realize. I interpreted her statement as "while they are different the results are still the same i.e., no children." I also don't understand why you would use a cake/diet analogy with something of this nature. That was rather illogical and inappropriate. But you are forgiven.

BTW, Natural Law? I thought that positive human law corresponding with Divine and Eternal Law is what makes Natural Law work! I don't see how NFP fanatics can square their birth control logic with the law of God and of nature and pretend they believe in Divine Providence. Also, didn't Pope Paul VI say that NFP can only be used "for grave reasons." It seems NFP fanatics interpret his remark in a very broad sense these daya.

Sean Gallagher

I don't think that what Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae regarding the moral acceptability, under certain conditions, of what is now referred to as Natural Family Planning does not contradict in any fundamental way what Cardinal Ottaviani was quoted as saying.

Couples who practice NFP in any given cycle in order to avoid having a child are not taking a direct action to prevent conception from happening. They are not seeking to wrest from God control of their fertility.

Under the proper conditions and with the right mindset, couples who use NFP are always open to the supreme blessing of life.

Steve

"You are avoiding the main outcome of Natural Family Planning, that it avoids having children similar to artificial birth control. Natalie is more on target than you realize. I interpreted her statement as "while they are different the results are still the same i.e., no children."

There is a moral difference between contraception and NFP, even if NFP is being used with a contraceptive mentality. Contraception is a grave matter because it puposely renders the marital act fruitless. NFP presupposes that no act transpires. While the outcome may be identical, the gravity of the "act" (act redered impotent vs. no act) is very different.

M.Z. Forrest

Thanks Jon for posting Mr. Crocker's response to similar criticism he's received as posted on this thread. I believe that denying there is an NFP mentality out there is rather silly. Quite frankly, a lot of NFP advocates give rather feminine reasons for their support. For instance, improving communications in the marriage is rather feminine. Many people are quite happily married in the absense of what many would call good communication.

Even in this forum, people are arguing that children are a burden that sometimes have to be regulated. I will concede that children cost money, but our lives should be built around propogating the children God is willing to bless us. Too often, NFP advocates seem to argue that children should be built around our life ideal.

As Natalie stated above, she wished she had had more children. Many people even when not desiring more children but finding them, find in retrospect that they are the the greatest blessings of their lives. Poverty is a social issue; children are not.

Steve D. Galvanek

Mike,
>>You are avoiding the main outcome of Natural Family Planning, that it avoids having children similar to artificial birth control.

No, not similar. It does so in a wholly different manner. How can you say it has a similar result? The RESULT of contracepted intercourse is to engage in an act, and thwart the possible outcome. Their is really no RESULT to an NFP act, because there no act to speak of. Under your logic, couples would be required to have intercourse every day just in case not doing so would 'result' in the woman not being pregnant.

>>I also don't understand why you would use a cake/diet analogy with something of this nature. That was rather illogical and inappropriate. But you are forgiven.

I asked no forgiviness for this. The analogy is a good one and food and sex are often used as analogies for one another in such discussions. The reason being that the urge for gratification of a plearurable impulse God has built in for good reasons (hunger and sexual desire); while different in substance are similar in nature. I was trying to detach the emotion around sex to explain in more practical terms how not partaking of an act is wholly different from engaging in it and then trying to cheat the consequences. Explain how the analogy was illogical?

Matt W.

I am sure that all those who insist that NFP is bad and its use should be discouraged because some (many?) couples practice it with a contraceptive mentality would also argue that sex is bad and should be discouraged because for some couples it is a result of lust and not self-giving love.

Steve

Matt W,

Huh?

I got 9 kids.

Need I say more?

Ken Crawford

I remember when Mel Gibson did that big network interview before the release of Passion and the interviewer in their pre-interview comments said that the movie seemed to be a lightning rod and an ink-blot test.

I think this article seems to have the same attribute.

I, as an NFP user with a beautiful 7 week old "Oops" named Andrew sitting by my side as I write, put myself with the "it's funny" crowd.

But I'd like to make a couple comments to both sides:

To the "It's funny" crowd:
Don't be too defensive of an article that has clearly upset a number of people including our host Jimmy Akin who we all admire. Whenever we offend someone, whether it is our intent or not, we should apologize for having offending them and Mr. Croker (who's book Triumph is awesome by the way) should have the humility to do just that.

To the "outraged" crowd:
Please remember to give this man credit for his intent. His piece was full of sarcasm and sarcasm can often come out sounding bitter and unsympathetic. Try to remember that he is indeed a supporter of NFP (he uses it) and was attempting (however badly) at bringing a new viewpoint to the table through sarcastic humor. Feel free to be critical of the piece, but remember that he is a faithful Catholic who loves the Church who was not trying to harm It.

Matt W.

Steve,

Sorry, apparently my attempt at sarcasm was no better than Crocker's. Let me try making my point this way:

The logic of NFP is abused (ie, used as "natural" contraception), therefore NFP is bad and its use should be discouraged also dictates that sex is bad and should be discouraged because it is abused (ie, used to satisfy lust rather than as a total gift of self).

I find that logic to be flawed, to say the least.

Is that clearer?

Mike

But Sean, you and others here still do not address the fact that NFP is about controlling the number of children that couples want which is in direct contradition to what the Church has taught for 2,000 years. It still serves as a barrier albeit one that is different than artificial means, but the number of children is still the same...zero or very few! It may be called "Natural" family planning, but the results are unnatural. Some of you who admit that NFP can be looked at as "birth control" are admitting without realizing it as you continue your quest to win a losing argument that NFP has inherent errors that may lead to such a birth control mindset. Also, Ottaviani was expressing amazement that some officials in the Church were already bringing a different attitude of the family into the Church that amounted to heresy. Also, what Paul VI said concerning "grave reasons" speaks for itself and his mindset was closer to Ottaviani's firm views (at least on this one issue) than what is often thought about among NFP advocates. And I still oppose the cake analogy. Steve said: "Would you likewise say that the person trying to lose weight who foregoes the piece of cake they'd really like to have is doing the same exact thing as the person who gorges themself on cake and then purges the contents of their stomach?"

Well, Steve, it is illogical because you are dealing with different degrees of sin in different circumstances and the analogy itself does not necessarily deal with sin if you take the analogy literally. The latter part of the analogy represents a psychological sickness that some people suffer from and is therefore not objectively sinful (Karen Carpenter, for example, would be considered, according to your analogy, a sinful person for the times she purged herself of food). I do not agree with such a conclusion.

Now, to answer your recent clarification of your analogy, if you are focusing on sexual appetite alone and that it should be controlled in respect to what God wants and expects from us, then I would say in the context of married life (in applying your analogy) that the unitive dimension of marriage must always have an appetite for the procreation of children lest it be a marriage full of a single barrier with no respect for the transmission of life as the Church has always taught and which is denied by NFP advocates including the couple who addressed the USCCB forum on NFP. Natural Family Planning represents a barrier even if it is labeled in a way that makes couples feel they are in accord with the Will of God. Also, I never said that couples should have frequent sex until they can produce children. All I am saying is that NFP psychologically borrows from the birth control mentality in that it is fostering an illogical concept that opposes the conception of a large Catholic family!!! NFP basically says: "You can monitor your fertility as a couple and know when you are fertile and avoid sex during the times when you are most fertile in order to avoid having children." Then the couple are told that that is "God's will"! That is the only problem I have with NFP. It is too close to Planned Parenthood's population control mentality than to the traditional Catholic view of having a large family.

While some here disagree with me you admit your errors when you make statements like "while the outcome may be identical" and "There is a moral difference between contraception and NFP, even if NFP is being used with a contraceptive mentality" because you have fallen into my point of view that NFP does foster a birth control mentality and I thought us Catholics are suppose to avoid the "occasion of sin" so why engage in a program where such an occasion is fosterd? Maybe a different plan should be developled or, better yet, we could be faithful to God and trust in His Providence the way our ancestors did and enlarge the Catholic family and not shrink it further until we are left with singles or small Catholic families who are too old to produce.

Pete S.

Substituting the Exception for the Rule
by Peter W. Miller

Photo- St. Catherine of Siena -
born 23rd in a family of 24 children

Over the years, a favorite tactic of those not caring for certain Church regulations or teachings has been to hunt for a particular exception or exemption, however small it may be, then use it to justify their subversion of the original rule or doctrinal element. American bishops and modern liturgists have employed this skill quite effectively to produce, among other things, extraordinary ministers in virtually every parish and the rapidly-expanding practice of "lay preaching" during Mass.

Although bishops and priests employing such tactics certainly causes greater harm, lay Catholics are not immune from the tendency to embrace an excepting clause on some article of faith or morals they find inconvenient. From the general expectation of salvation for non-Catholics to the presumption of irregular sacramental jurisdiction to the avoidance of tithing obligations, several examples can be discussed; but perhaps the most common instance in this writer's experience relates to what is known as "Natural Family Planning."

For the purposes of the essay, "Natural Family Planning" (NFP) and "periodic abstinence" will be used interchangeably. Although NFP-enthusiasts are quick to remind me that the "planning" aspect of NFP includes both causing and avoiding pregnancies, it's the "avoiding" which provides the greater impetus for NFP's use since "causing" pregnancies through marital relations under normal circumstances requires little special planning, as the current and historical population of the world has so aptly demonstrated.

"The Church teaching on contraception makes a lot of sense..."

I wouldn't consider myself the most outgoing individual on the planet, but perhaps since I appear to be approachable, there are a number of occurrences (for better or for worse) in which people will attempt to engage me in conversation. One such incident happened while waiting in line for confession at a local parish. In what I'd imagine is not atypical for other places in the country, this particular parish which easily fills hundreds of people into its three weekend Masses struggles to find a handful in the Saturday afternoon confession line.

This particular Saturday, I was the first to arrive and had begun my examination of conscience when another person — a woman in her mid-thirties — came and took her place in line behind me. As she was making her way to that eventual position, she made several loud comments to no one in particular which led me to believe she wasn't the biggest advocate of silence. I turned my body and buried my nose further into my missal, hoping to send the signal that I was too busy preparing for something to talk, but it was not to be. After she repeated a question first ignored and seemed altogether unencumbered by the complete lack of response, I resigned myself to have to make chit-chat while waiting for the priest to arrive.

"So how long ya been married?" was the question as she gestured to my wedding band. I don't remember the exact response or the sequence to follow, but it turned out she taught Natural Family Planning classes in the parish. No doubt trying to be helpful and knowing that I'm young and had recently been married, she asked if my wife and I had taken an NFP course "yet". After she rebuked several failed attempts to politely tell her "no thanks," I finally let her know that I had little interest in or use for Natural Family Planning. After hearing this, she gave me a semi-disgusted look and quickly quieted down. Attributing this reaction to the "old-fashioned Catholics are the greatest evil mankind has ever known" attitude I usually get when I say I attend a Latin Mass or offer a quote from the Syllabus, I didn't give it much more thought and took the opportunity to complete my preparations.

On the way out of the confessional, as I was trying to figure out whether the priest telling me to choose my own penance invalidated the sacrament, I ran into my newfound acquaintance who had taken the opportunity to retrieve a pamphlet from her car. She handed it to me, letting me know that "the Church teaching on contraception makes a lot of sense and I know that if you pray hard enough, you'll do the right thing." Still a little confused and disoriented, she bounced into the confessional before I could respond. The pamphlet was a summary of Magisterial texts forbidding artificial contraception and ended with the plug of NFP as the "Christian way for married couples to achieve true happiness and holiness!"

What my new friend (let's call her Jan) seemed to believe, and which my encounters with other people have shown to be not terribly uncommon, was that the only reasonable alternative to artificial contraception (and perhaps even abortion) was Natural Family Planning. Although I didn't expect a word like "Providence" to be in her vocabulary, it didn't seem to occur to her that I had no reason or desire to willfully limit or "space" my children. This peculiar "either-or" tendency is borne out by those who pronounce their utilization of periodic abstinence to demonstrate their Catholicism. I regularly receive emails or read Internet postings from individuals proudly proclaiming their practice of NFP. Although it seems a rather private thing to publicly announce, I guess those who do so see it as equivalent to rejecting contraception and artificial birth control.

Just how grave is "grave"?

The Church teaches that periodic abstinence can be morally acceptable only when certain conditions are met. These conditions include:

Mutual consent on the part of both spouses.
The ability to engage in the practice without risking sins against chastity.
A grave, serious reason for doing so.
Pope Pius XII discussed this final condition in 1951 when he referred to:

"serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called 'indications,' may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint, and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles." 1

Pius XII used the terms "serious motives" and "grave reasons." Seventeen years later in Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI used "grave motives" and "serious motives":

"In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth."

"If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier." 2

What exactly constitutes which motives and reasons are sufficiently "grave" or "serious"? This is a question that has not fully been examined by theologians and is left more to the determination of each individual Catholic (with the aid of his confessor). While I certainly cannot see into the soul of any individual to know just how grave and serious their reasons for practicing Natural Family Planning truly are, the almost ubiquitous practice among residents in an affluent country of a technique intended for serious and grave conditions is generally a cause for concern. Analogously, I do not pretend to know or presume the state of any individual's soul as he approaches the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, but when weekend after weekend, a parish goes through over a thousand hosts while averaging two people in the confessional line, the observed state of affairs indicates that all is not well.

The most common definitions for "grave" are "requiring serious thought" and "fraught with danger or harm." The Magisterium itself also uses the term "grave" when dealing with the most serious or critical events and circumstances, such as the dangers posed by the devil, the tormentations of Christ during His Passion and the obligatory nature of moral law. It is also used when referring to heinous and reserved sins such as abortion:

1463: Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.

Fittingly enough, the late Fr. John Hardon used this same term to describe the mortal dangers of contraception:

"The practice of contraception is a grave sin. Those who indulge in the practice are in danger of losing their immortal souls.... Christianity has always held, holds now, and always will hold, that contraception is a serious offense against God. Unless repented, it is punishable by eternal deprivation of the vision of God, which we call eternal death." 3

The seriousness surrounding the use of the word "grave" is evident throughout current and past teachings, encyclicals and catechisms. So what situations would constitute a "grave reason" for periodic abstinence? In perhaps the only concrete guideline to come specifically from a pope, Pius XII offered the example of a mother for whom pregnancy and childbirth presented a serious risk of death.

Again, the public announcement of one's own usage of NFP seems uncharacteristic of someone afflicted with such grave cause as to avoid procreation — particularly when presented as a demonstration of Catholic fidelity rather than a plea for compassion. More disturbing still are those who openly publish their motives for NFP'ing, presumably unaware of or unconcerned with those reasons' objective gravity. From personal information openly shared by various Catholics on the Internet, these "serious motives" and "grave reasons" include: wanting "to become comfortable with the marriage first," desiring "to be in a house first," thinking that "children close together [won't] get the proper amount of attention," wanting to "finish school so I'd have more time to be at home with the children," and even "in our current economic situation, four is the most children we determined could reasonably put through college." At a recent USCCB Forum on NFP, a presenting married couple extolling the benefits of periodic abstinence openly recounted how:

"At the beginning of our married life, we used NFP to avoid pregnancy, as the time was not right for it." 4

I would venture a guess that the above reasons which I would hardly consider objectively "grave" or "serious" would sound to most Catholic laymen and priests as representing perfectly acceptable cause to prevent childbirth. Not that such impressions are without some sort of foundation — in one of the more mysterious parts of Humanae Vitae, Paul VI addresses a hypothetical question with what appears to be an approval (so long as contraception is avoided) of some justifications hard to classify as "grave":

"Now some may ask: in the present case, is it not reasonable in many circumstances to have recourse to artificial birth control if, thereby, we secure the harmony and peace of the family, and better conditions for the education of the children already born? To this question it is necessary to reply with clarity: the Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God." 5

Furthermore, Papal pronouncements since Humanae Vitae have not addressed this matter of gravity, opting rather to emphasize the "dignity" of the individuals involved in such decisions. Just as I have no competence to judge the intentions of souls, I'm in no position to set guidelines for gravity where the Church has not. Given the other topics to which the Church has attached the term "grave", I can determine for myself and my family what situations would and would not qualify as morally acceptable — considerations which would certainly take into account our family's condition in comparison to other parts of the world and past periods in history.

Although she may not remember me, if I'm presented with another opportunity to speak with Jan, I'm going to clarify for her that my wife and I are not interested in practicing Natural Family Planning because we had no "grave reason" to do so. We are both young, healthy adults. I have a modest job that pays enough to feed our family and pay rent on a small, yet livable apartment. There are even a number of luxuries in our lives that we can do without or items we could sell should it become necessary. Even without such a job and accommodations, we have the support of family and friends, and, if it came down to it, a first-world country's social programs at our disposal. Under significantly worse financial and physical conditions, both of our parents put their trust in God and were blessed with large families. We have every intention of doing the same and are an awful long way from any condition I would consider "grave" or "serious".

"Responsible Parenthood"

"I am not pleased with the statement in the text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have. Never has this been heard of in the Church. My father was a laborer, and the fear of having many children never entered my parents' minds, because they trusted in Providence. [I am amazed] that yesterday in the Council it should have been said that there was doubt whether a correct stand had been taken hitherto on the principles governing marriage. Does this not mean that the inerrancy of the Church will be called into question? Or was not the Holy Spirit with His Church in past centuries to illuminate minds on this point of doctrine?" 6 (emphasis mine)

The preceding statements were made during the Second Vatican Council by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Cardinal Ratzinger's predecessor as head of the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and the eleventh in a family of twelve children. Several years prior, Pope Pius XII expressed similar sentiments that large families were representative of:

"the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage." 7

How did that which was a few short decades ago considered by someone who knew Catholic Faith as well as anyone, to be "never ... heard of in the Church" become so ubiquitous and, according to some, even obligatory? When did childbirth, a miraculous treasure naturally flowing from marriage, become the result of an optional act of generosity performed by those practicing "responsible parenthood"?

As with similar occurrences, the effective divorce of periodic abstinence from its necessary grave conditions is primarily one of education and emphasis. Part of the problem is in the language employed when discussing such matters. When used at all, the terms describing the moral requirements have changed from "grave" and "serious" to "good" and "just". Even Humanae Vitae, after using the term "grave motives" switches to "plausible reasons". The final step is to reverse the terminology to teach that the motives, rather than being necessarily grave should instead be "not selfish". When flipped in such a manner, the door opens even wider to what could justify avoidance of birth. Certainly reasons considered "not selfish" far outnumber those considered "grave", and could reasonably include such justifications as wanting each child to have more parental attention, not wanting to have more children than could reasonably be placed into private education, or even wanting the children to grow up in a better neighborhood or time period.

Such changes in terminology assist in the efforts to render the obligations and limitations meaningless by making the exception of periodic abstinence the new rule. The concept of "responsible parenthood" has come to describe the moral obligation to regulate and limit births. Among Humanae Vitae's "Pastoral Directives" is the following exhortation entitled "Mastery of Self" which seems to lend more support to the avoidance of conception than contraception:

"The honest practice of regulation of birth demands first of all that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family, and that they tend towards securing perfect self-mastery. To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring: little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties." 8

According to the school of thought which has followed, Natural Family Planning is a positive good which "builds healthy marriages" and "promotes a strong mutual bond." As such, people like Jan see no reason why a good and moral Catholic could ever not practice NFP, whether they want a couple children or a dozen.

Natural Family Planning, we are constantly told, also allow humans to "cooperate with and become interpreters of God's creative plan" rather than denigrate ourselves to the presumably ignoble prospect of serving as "chutes by which God delivers babies to earth." The implication is that relying on Providence or choosing not to limit and space your children is at best irresponsible, at worst barbaric and animalistic. In fact, such concepts are more than implied. In his recent Latin Mass article, John Galvin recounts how:

Fr. Torraco, who answers morality questions on EWTN's website, claims that those who decline to use NFP and "leave procreation in the hands of God" are practicing a "deficient," "deceptive" and "less than human" approach." Father Hogan, who answers NFP questions, tells Catholics that "it is better to have 2 or 3 children you can educate all the way than 7 or 8 that you can only take so far." 9

Fr. Toracco has since started advocating some sort of pseudo-spiritual mysticism based on the "charting" involved with NFP (see The Remnant — 10/15/02). Elsewhere on the EWTN site, Fr. Horgan, in an article claiming to address NFP's "serious motives" of all places, tells of how:

"Pastors routinely try to persuade engaged couples to use NFP after they are married. Most engaged couples, however, will tell the priest that they want to avoid a pregnancy, at least for awhile. Pastors are very pleased if they are able to convince the couple to use NFP." 10

Among the significant volume of various resources, Web sites, pastoral aids and information available relating to Natural Family Planning, the necessary "grave" and "serious" conditions are either ignored or downplayed while the promotion of the seemingly limitless benefits of periodic abstinence are repeatedly emphasized, as aptly demonstrated by George Sim Johnston:

"The best kept secret in the Church today is Natural Family Planning. .. .NFP is like going on a honeymoon every month, which is why even non-Catholics use it and don't understand why more couples aren't in on it. ... the rewards of NFP easily outweigh the sacrifices. Ask any couple who uses it." 11

Perhaps such messages and tactics are directed toward the vast majority of Catholic couples currently utilizing artificial birth control methods. Perhaps presenting Natural Family Planning as rewarding, exciting, fulfilling and effective will entice those with a nagging conscience about their use of contraceptives. In such a time where contraception is practiced by so many Catholics in America, it may seem to be a strange lack of perspective to focus on the motivations and moral dispositions of those relative few who have avoided the plague of artificial birth control. But, as in all aspects of Catholic Faith and morals, people need to hear the Truth, not merely that which is palatable to their modern sensibilities. Such efforts to present this practice separated from the grave responsibilities associated with it, essentially teaching an exception as the de facto rule for Christian marriages, only serves to transform Natural Family Planning into what many both inside and outside the Church already consider it: a "Catholic" form of birth control.

FOOTNOTES:
1 Pope Pius XII, Allocutions to midwives, October 29, 1951, and to the Associations of the large families, November 26, 1951
2 Pope Paul VI, Humane Vitae 10 (July 25, 1968)
3 J. Galvin, "Humanae Vitae: Heroic, Deficient - Or Both?" The Latin Mass (Winter 2002)
4 J. & J. Campbell, "Connections" USCCB NFP Forum, Vol. 13, Nos. 3 & 4 (Summer/Fall 2002)
5 Pope Paul VI, Humane Vitae 16 (July 25, 1968)
6 Fr. R. M. Wiltgen, "The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber" TAN Books and Publishers (1967)
7 Pope Pius XII, "Address to the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy" (January 20, 1958)
8 Pope Paul VI, Humane Vitae 21 (July 25, 1968)
9 J. Galvin, " John Galvin Responds Re: Comments by Janet Smith and Ronald McArthur" The Latin Mass (Winter 2002)
10 Fr. Richard Hogan, "Natural Family Planning - Serious Motives" EWTN Web Site
11 G. Sim Johnston "Natural Family Planning" Catholic Issues and Facts

Natalie

This has become way out of hand. Enough points have been made for crying out loud! Since it is Lent we should practice some charity at this point and HUMILITY so let's just pray for each other. Goodbye.

Jared L. Olar

Pete S., did you just post an entire article in the these comment boxes? If this article is online, it would have been better to just post the hyperlink.

Mike, you said, "But Sean, you and others here still do not address the fact that NFP is about controlling the number of children that couples want which is in direct contradition to what the Church has taught for 2,000 years."

Right from the outset, you've committed the Straw Man fallacy. NFP is *not* about controlling the number of children that couples want. Anyone who thinks that simply doesn't know what NFP is about. It's got nothing to do with controlling the number of children that couples want. In a Catholic context, it's about married couples learning to submit themselves to God's law and the natural law. It's about cooperating with God's "planning" of future generations. Approaching NFP with the motive of "control" is an abuse or perversion of NFP, because it's only effective or successful when couples STOP trying to control.

Nick


I understood that the RCC's teaching was that NFP was not-unnatural. That is, only having sex at certain times did not cause the act to become unnatural, since no unnatural barriers had been placed on the act. In addition such a method still allowed for a chance of conception. This, together with a couple's willingness to accept, love, and take responsibility for any child born, were the only requirements.

If that is the position, some of the comments here appear to be reactionary. In fact, the satirical article that started this stank of reactionary satire.

[QUICK SCAN OF humanae vitae at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html]

I'm having a bugger of a time reconciling Humanae Vitae and the conclusions found in the above quoted article. It seems the article is arguing an entirely different point than the encyclical is arguing, and, frankly, not very well. The basis of the entire Catholic position seems to require an appeal to natural law. The quoted article seems to just be an apeal to large families, which is in and of itself is not wrong.

I, of course, being an outsider, submit to the possibility that I'm entirely wrong.

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

A recent issue of _This Rock_ featured an article by Fr. Brian W. Harrison which effectively debunked the notion that NFP is just another form of contraception and therefore prohibited by the Catholic Faith.

Fr. Harrison cited two 19th century decisions of the Holy Office saying that it is permissible for Catholics to use infertile times in order to postpone conception. I forget the exact years those decisions came down, but I think one was during the 1850's and the other in 1880 [Jimmy Akin could probably confirm this; I seem to have misplaced my copy of that issue :-( ]

Anyway, if the Holy Office was okay with the use of infertile periods as far back as the mid-19th C - long before Vatican II - that changes the whole discussion here a bit. The Church's acceptance of periodic continence/use of the infertile times is a bit older than some of us here think!

Also, Fr Harrison points out that artificial contraception is objectionable precisely because it thwarts the natural life-giving power of the conjugal act. But during the infertile times this power is not present, thus nothing is thwarted, therefore use of the infertile times *is not* equivalent to contraception and *is* morally permissible.

Anyway, you have to read the article; my little post from memory doesn't quite do it justice.

In Jesu et Maria,

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

I found my copy of the Feb 2005 This Rock Magazine with Fr. Harrison's article! Here are a few relevant paragraphs (but I highly recommend reading the whole article for the context and additional arguments):

***Quote***

The first time Rome spoke on the matter was 1853, when the Sacred Penitentiary answered a dubium (a formal request for an official clarification) submitted by the bishop of Amiens, France. He asked, "Should those spouses be reprehended who make use of marriage only on those days when (in the opinion of some doctors) conception is impossible?" The reply was: "After mature examination, we have decided that such spouses should not be disturbed [or disquieted]. provided they do nothing that impedes generation" (quoted in J. Montfinchez, Teologia Moral 654. my translation). By the expression "impedes generation," it is obvious the Vatican meant the use of onanism (or coitus interruptus, now popularly called "withdrawal"). condoms, etc. Otherwise the reply would be self-contradictory.

The next time the issue was raised was in 1880, when the Sacred Penitentiary issued a more general response. The precise question posed was this: "Whether it is licit to make use of marriage only on those days when it is more difficult for conception to occur?" The response was: "Spouses using the aforesaid method are not to be disturbed, and a confessor may with due caution, suggest this proposal to spouses if his other attempts to lead them away from the detestable crime of onanism have proved fruitless." (This decision was published in Nouvelle Revue Theologique 13 [1881]: 459-460 and in Analecta luris Pontificii 22 [1883]: 249.)

One could not ask for a more obvious and explicit proof that more than eighty years before Vatican II, Rome saw a great moral difference between NFP (as we now call it) and contraceptive methods, which Catholic moralists then referred to as onanism.

This was the doctrine and pastoral practice that all priests learned in seminary from the mid-nineteenth century onward. Before Pius Xl was elected, Blessed Pius IX. Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Benedict XV all clearly approved of this status quo established by their own Sacred Penitentiary and never showed the slightest inclination to reverse its decisions of 1853 and 1880....

But nowhere does Pius XI stress "plans" or "goals" to avoid having children. He does not teach that such a "desire" or such a "deliberate plan" is essentially sinful. What the Pope brands as sinful is "frustrating the marriage act" (vitiando naturae actum)--that is, "frustrating its natural power and purpose." But when couples carry out conjugal acts on the infertile days exclusively they are not frustrating the natural power and purpose of those acts that they perform on those days. Those particular acts do not have any natural (procreative) power and purpose to begin with. You cannot frustrate a nonexistent power or purpose....

...you cannot deprive anyone of something he never possessed to begin with. You cannot rob a man with no possessions any more than you can strip him if he is already naked. Likewise, as conjugal acts carried out precisely in the infertile period do not have any natural procreative potential, it is obvious that they cannot be deprived or robbed of that potential.

***End Quote***

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, "Is Natural Family Planning a Heresy?" _This Rock_ Feb. 2005, pp 12-16

Note: I scanned two pages of the article, then had to quickly correct for errors. I hope I didn't miss any typos!

In Jesu et Maria,

Pete S.

I read Father Harrison's article on NFP many times in the past (including earlier today) and he bases his conclusions on outdated material that is no longer scientifically stable. He is a very good priest and I enjoy and agree with most of his articles, but he relied heavily on theological material that are long outdated (e.g., some of the material from decades ago believed in the now disproven theory of "quickening"). His article fails to point out the fact that the times in which couples MAY not procreate are only during grave circumstances as Pope Paul VI had stated. He also never pointed out that the problem is over the fact that our leaders never really defined what they meant by "grave" circumstances. But Paul VI did teach that marriage must be unitive and procreative and any barrier between the two is a grave sin in the eyes of God. Nowhere in Sacred Scripture or in the writings of the saints and doctors of the Church or in the writings or statements of respected Church leaders (such as Cardinal Ottaviani), would you find any teaching claiming that the family should be small and that sex between couples is okay when they refuse to procreate. When procreating is not the target, then the act of sex becomes lust (sins of the flesh). It is true that NFP is causing the structure of the Catholic family to become smaller and no one seems to care. There is an elephant in the middle of the room and no one seems to notice!

I also feel that Father Harrison was quite selective in writing his article because he ignored other official statements that clearly contradict his viewpoint:

Pope Pius XI spoke from the Chair of Peter in his 1931 encyclical Casti Connubii on Christian marriage, and he taught that all forms of birth control are evil. Here is a long excerpt:

Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (#’s 53-56), Dec. 31, 1930: “And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of the family circumstances.

“But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

“Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, ‘Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of offspring is prevented.’ Onan, the son of Judah, did this and the Lord killed him for it (Gen. 38:8-10).

“Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”

Catholic dogma teaches us that the primary purpose of marriage (and the conjugal act) is the procreation and education of children, and not to practice the elimination or prevention of children through unnatural or natural means. Did not Pope Pius XI, in Casti Connubii, say: "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.”

Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii:

“Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”

NFP advocates should realize that besides this primary purpose, there are also secondary purposes for marriage, such as mutual aid, the quieting of concupiscence and the cultivating of mutual love. But these secondary purposes must always remain subordinate to the primary purpose of marriage (the procreation and education of children). This is the key point to remember in the discussion on NFP.

Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii: “For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial right there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider SO LONG AS THEY ARE SUBORDINATED TO THE PRIMARY END and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”

It is not a complicated matter to understand that using Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy is wrong. It is written on man’s heart that such activity is wrong. Yes, Pope Pius XI taught that married couples could use their marriage right in the infertile periods of the wife (or when there is a defect of nature or age which prevents new life from being conceived). But he did not teach that they could designedly restrict the marriage act to the infertile periods to avoid a pregnancy, as in Natural Family Planning.

If couples are only to have sex on infertile days while avoiding the days they are most fertile then my argument is proved based on that fact alone, that NFP avoids having children. NFP seeks to avoid pregnancy the way artificial means avoids pregnancy. The primary end is still the same. The official teaching of the Church concerning the primary end of marriage is not being strongly emphasized in any NFP literature I have read in my research. Imagine if NFP existed when Catholic families had several children, some over 10 children? Imagine the great saints, priests and religious who would not have existed thanks to NFP? Put it this way, Saint Catherine of Siena would not have been born if her parents practiced NFP.

But in these days when the "smoke of Satan has entered the Church" to quote Paul VI, some will never listen and only a remnant of the faithful are left to speak out while many others continue to fall. "When the blind lead the blind they both fall into the pit."

By the way, the average number of children that NFP couples have when they do want children are not as high in comparison to the amount of children the average Catholic family had 50-100 years ago. But the stats are vague with NFP couples because there is no official stat by any offical NFP program concerning the average number of children that NFP couples usually have. They do, however, offer much material on how to AVOID PREGNANCY (an often used term in the literature!!!!) I think it is tragic when Catholics of today continue to promote NFP as a way to avoid pregnancy and then claim they are following God's law to "be Fruitful and Multiply" as was stated earlier in one comment post.

I now think this is getting redundant?

Jared L. Olar

"But in these days when the 'smoke of Satan has entered the Church' to quote Paul VI, some will never listen and only a remnant of the faithful are left to speak out while many others continue to fall."

Remnant, eh? Ah yes, how wonderful it feels to belong to the chosen remnant!

Before my conversion, I used to belong to the chosen remnant. Now that I'm a Catholic, I have no desire to get sucked back into "Christ vs. culture" fundamentalism, especially one that positions itself in opposition to the rest of the Church.

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

The 1853 and 1880 decisions of the Sacred Penitentiary are certainly not "outdated"; they were never abrogated at all, and represent an official application of moral theology to the question.

Also, the passages you quote from Casti Connubi precisely illustrate Fr. Harrison's point. Note the Holy Father's wording:

>>>First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act.

First of all, he states that Christian law permits "virtuous continence" to avoid conception. This means total abstinence for a time by mutual consent of the spouses, which the Church has always taught is an acceptable way to limit family size if grave reasons exist. In effect, "virtuous continence" was the first form of Natural Family Planning approved by the Church.

Second, what he condemns is "frustrating the marriage act". As Fr. Harrison explained, this means frustrating the act's natural power of procreation. Contraception does this by directly preventing conception when it could possibly occur, and is therefore immoral.

But since that power is not present during the infertile times, nothing is frustrated during those times. Therefore limiting marital relations to those times is not a "contraceptive" practice, since it does not thwart a present power of procreation. Thus the use of the infertile periods - along with periodic continence - is not immoral.

Look at some more phrases from Casti Connubi:

>>>"But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good."

The thwarting of the procreative power of the act is against nature, but the use of natural infertile times does not thwart nature, rather it works with nature.

>>>"Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

Again, it is sinful to "frustrate its natural powers", not to act when those powers are not present.

>>>“As St. Augustine notes, ‘Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of offspring is prevented.’

Again, you cannot prevent something that cannot occur. During the infertile times a woman can't get pregnant, yet the Church has never forbidden conjugal relations during the infertile period, and the Sacred Penitentiary explicitly said that this is licit.

"any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature,

Again, contraception is immoral because "the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power". But during the infertile times that natural power is not present, so nothing is frustrated.

Incidentally, Fr. Harrison specifically cited that last paragraph from Casti Connubi in his article, explaining that "...you cannot deprive anyone of something he never possessed to begin with. You cannot rob a man with no possessions any more than you can strip him if he is already naked. Likewise, as conjugal acts carried out precisely in the infertile period do not have any natural procreative potential, it is obvious that they cannot be deprived or robbed of that potential."

So none of those passages from Casti Connubi in any way apply to NFP, only to contraception.

In Jesu et Maria,

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

>>>Yes, Pope Pius XI taught that married couples could use their marriage right in the infertile periods of the wife (or when there is a defect of nature or age which prevents new life from being conceived). But he did not teach that they could designedly restrict the marriage act to the infertile periods to avoid a pregnancy, as in Natural Family Planning.

Ah, but Fr. Harrison shows that the Sacred Penitentiary restated the validity of its 1880 decision in 1932, less than two years after Casti Connubi was released. Again, quoting from the _This Rock_ article:

***Quote***

Only a year and a half after it (Casti Connubi) was promulgated, the Sacred Penitentiary yet again issued a statement on periodic continence. This ruling was eventually
made public in the Roman documentary journal Texta et Documenta:

"Regarding the Exclusive Use of the lnfertile Period.

"Qu. Whether the practice is licit in itself by which spouses who, for just and grave causes, wish to avoid offspring in a morally upright way abstain from the use of marriage--by mutual consent and with upright motives--except on those days when, according to certain recent [medical] theories, conception is impossible for natural reasons.

"Resp. Provided for by the Response of the Sacred Penitentiary of June 16, 1880" (Texta et Documenta, series theologica 25 [1942]: 95, my translation).

Clearly, it would be preposterous to plead that Pius XI "never knew" about this 1932 decision before his death seven years later. In all probability hc was the first to know about it. It would have been mailed out promptly to the bishops of the world for the benefit of their moral theologians teaching future priests in their seminaries. How could the only Catholic bishop in the world not to know of this "heretical distortion" (in Ibranyi's view) of his encyclical be the bishop of Rome? Approved moral theologians everywhere continued to teach this settled and authentic doctrine about the legitimacy of NFP.

If the Pope had wanted to get a clear message to theologians and to the entire Church that he was reversing the doctrine of his four predecessors, he would have used different language than he does in Casti Connubii. For the sake of clarity, he almost certainly would have used the terminology of the theologians of that time: sinful onanismus on the one hand and on the other haud continencia periodica or usus exclusivus temporum agenneseos to refer to what we now call NFP. He would have stated unambiguously that the latter as well as the former was now to be judged sinful aud unacceptable.

***End Quote***

So in 1932, only a year and a half after Casti Connubi, the Sacred Penitentiary stated that it *is* licit for couples to "abstain from the use of marriage...except on those days when, according to certain recent [medical] theories, conception is impossible for natural reasons." This is a restatement of the 1880 decision, which the Church evidently did not consider "outdated" in 1932!

So Casti Connubi did not prohibit NFP, nor did it reverse the 1853 and 1880 decisions of the Sacred Penitentiary in favor of periodic continence and use of the infertile times.

In Jesu et Maria,

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

A clarification: I agree with what the Church says about large families, and that NFP should not be used selfishly but only for just and grave reasons.

What I disagree with is the notion that NFP is just another form of contraception and therefore sinful and forbidden by Catholicism. NFP is not contraception because:

a) Contraception thwarts the natural procreative power of the marital act, while NFP does not thwart it, but simply waits till that power is no longer present.

b) Contraception can only be used to prevent a pregnancy, while NFP is not just for postponing pregnancy, but can also be used to cause a pregnancy as well since the couple knows exactly when the wife is most fertile.

If NFP were contraception, the Sacred Penitentiary would have forbidden it. But instead it said NFP was permissible no less than three times - in 1853, 1880 and 1932. If the Church says it's okay then it's okay.

In Jesu et Maria,

Jon

I hate to be a party pooper, but don't these encyclopedia entry-length posts violate Rule #3?

"3. Also because of the format restrictions, everyone must be concise. Don't go on at length about things. Going on at length constitutes rudeness."

Maybe you could move the avalanche elsewhere.

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

Sorry, I'm only an occasional visitor here and did not know about that rule. I just found "Da Rulz" on the page and read them; thanks for pointing it out to me!

In Jesu et Maria,

Phil W.

Jimmy, the link "TELL THEM" needs to have a "mailto:" before the e-mail address.

Joe


Sorry, but Crocker's piece was essentially on the mark, IMHO. You guys take yourselves way, WAY to seriously. On the back of a Catholic book a quip says that "Fundamentalism is Christianity with little compassion and less wit." Sounds like that smackdown might apply to the indignation here.

Joe


Sorry, but Crocker's piece was essentially on the mark, IMHO. You guys take yourselves way, WAY to seriously. On the back of a Catholic book a quip says that "Fundamentalism is Christianity with little compassion and less wit." Sounds like that smackdown might apply to the indignation here.

Mike

Rosemarie goes way overboard and overlooks Peter's main points and fails to understand that he was simply saying that Father Harrison's article and the Pope's declarations do not say that the Church endorses marriages with a limited number of children, but only in certain cases may couples abstain and not for illicit reasons (abstinence, by the way, is what the 1800's statements spoke about, that is, abstaining from sex)! Let's not overlook that fact that the Church speaks of specific reasons when couples may do so but this is not the norm. It is the exception! Maybe Father Harrison should have mentioned that? And I thought Pius XI's encyclical superceded any statement made by the Church on this subject? His statement was more definitive and binding.

I agree with Pete that NFP is not contraception, but the mentality is the same. The mentality may be different than the physical nature of contraception, but the mentality is there as the couple addressing the USCCB admitted.

Pete mentioned the smoke of satan in the Church because the pope mentioned it. And the remnant is clearly a fact mentioned in the Bible and in the writings of many, many saints. Jesus asked if He will finy any men with faith on earth when He arrives at His Second Coming? Sounds like the end times are not going to be peaches and cream.

Mike

When Pius XI mentions anything that goes against nature (within marriage), he is speaking of birth control, which the Church has always been against since the Didache.

daniel

I'm a little late coming to this discussion (I found the article and these responses by accident the other day).

So tell me, do any of you "be fruitful and multiply" folks understand that:

a. Mankind has already fulfilled this commandment in spades.

b. Further uncontrolled human breeding will destroy this planet, turning it into a cross between Soylent Green and Calcutta.

c. The bishops really don't care or have a clue about the stress, emotional and financial burdens of raising large numbers of children since it won't be their burden and they can continue to live in luxury (luxury which invalidates their claim that couples who use ABC are doing so for selfish and materialistic reasons).

d. The ban on ABC for married couples has nothing whatever to do with sexual morality (Pope Paul's own commission overwhelming said so) or scripture (Onan's sin wasn't coitus interruptus per se, but his failure to fulfull his Levirite duty to impregnate his brother's wife) but the preservation of Papal infallibility by not contradicting past Popes on the issue.

e. NFP isn't just about avoiding sex during fertile times (an act condemned by Augustine and other Chruch Fathers), it's also about having sex when the couple knows the wife can't conceive - and there is no difference between temporal barrier and a physical one.

f. If NFP's claim to be 99% effective are true, then it is LESS open to life than condems with their mere 90% success rate.

g. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce asks for understanding and "wiggle room" for the most revolting crime on the books - child rape. Perhaps the Church should remove the plank from its own eye before it presumes to comment on the mote in the eye of 90% of Catholic couples who use ABC.

The fact that the Church allows NFP shows its stand against ABC to be nothing more than hair splitting, hypocritical sophistry fit only for Vatican ivory towers and not the real lives of loving couples. I can and I do use "the primacy of the informed conscience" to reject this part of Humanae Vitae. And since 90% of Catholic couples agree with me, the teaching is invalid as it violates the sensus fidelium.

dave

NFP is supposed to be sinful simply because it encourages couples to have sex for non-reproductive purposes. It leads to sin, ie the sin of sex that is engaged in without procreation as it's sole and only purpose.

Am I wrong here? I'm not a catholic, but I've never been able to see the difference between NFP and birth control. Both are done with the intention of avoiding children. Both allow married couples to have sex simply because they want to for lust. If you do not want to children, you shouldn't be having sex.

Anthony Galliano

Daniel,

The sensus fidelium only applies when the faithful have a strong sense of piety and devotion in terms of spirituality and the basic tenets of theology, and I emphasize the word "faitful." Since many Catholics are not faithful to the Church, then the "sensus fidelium" does not and cannot apply in the way you would like it applied.

Birth control is intrinsically evil because it directly avoids life but it also disrupts and destroys the fertilization process chemically compared to NFP. I also have problems with NFP but I also realize that chemically ABC is different and more destructive than NFP in practice.

Organizations like Population Research Institute and Human Life International have proved that the world's food resources have increased and that the world can feed all of its people if it wanted to. Go to to www.HLI.org for info. Politics, greed, corruption is what prevents some people, mostly in third world countries, to be deprived of the care that you think of. Somalia is one example of how a government can reject the good being offered to them.

I am not sure why you would raise some of your other arguments in this context expecially the reference to "child rape" which, on your part, I hope was an exaggeration because the Church opposes all forms of immorality and its fallen priests are no more sinful than many Protestant clergy who gave also fallen yet that is a fact seldom reported by the anti-Catholic mainstream media.

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